Monday, May 22, 2017

Concern over civilian trials of Malaysian military personnel

Former legal officer Lt. Cdr. (R) Zalil Mohd Mess of the Royal Malaysian Navy writes here in opposition to recent trials of military personnel in civilians courts. Excerpt:
The Armed Forces laws are quite unforgiving and more severe compared to civil criminal punishment. As an example, an offence of drug abuse is punished with 12 months imprisonment and dismissal. 
The Armed Forces laws are also allowed to prosecute servicemen and officers who break any Federal penal civil laws, including offences under the Anti-Corruption Act. 
The court-martial is vested with the power to impose maximum punishment of death. 
In the worst case scenario, after an investigation is completed by an outside authority (because the Armed Forces is incapable of conducting their own investigation or because of the of inter-agency trust), why are these accused not offered a trial by their peers in a court-martial? The outside agencies’ investigation is still admissible in a court-martial. 
If it is a question of capability of the prosecution, the rules allow for officers from the legal office of the Defence Ministry (usually officers seconded officers from the Attorney-General’s Chambers) to prosecute in a court-martial. 
The Armed Forces are unlike the police, who do not have a similar court to deal with their own because the nature and integrity of their establishment relate to the public directly. 
The prosecution of Armed Forces personnel and officers in public courts is distasteful and undermines the reputation of the Armed Forces. 
It would better serve the Armed Forces if these cases were tried in a court-martial and given the necessary press coverage to ensure transparency (court-martials are conducted in public).

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